Friday, August 12, 2011

Don’t die before you turn at least twenty

[This is a little long for a blog. It was a first chapter in one of my books that has now gone in a different direction. I probably won't use this, but I hate to waste a story so...]

Don’t die before you turn at least twenty. That was Finn’s advice. He had only made it to thirteen and now here he was stuck in heaven as a kid—at least for a few years. Oh, it was alright still being a kid at times. You didn’t have to do all the stuff the adults did, but then you didn’t get to do all the stuff the adults did either. And they still got to tell you what to do! That was just unfair. After all, Finn was an angel too.
He passed down through the roof of the apartment complex, on through the fourth floor and the third floor and materialized on the second floor in the hallway across from Number 26.
Now that was one of the coolest things about being an angel. I couldn’t have done that last year, thought Finn. But there were things that weren’t so fun. The worst thing was Archangel Morehouse Sturgenbaum. Why that man could curdle a glass of milk from half a mile away without even trying! And Finn hadn’t exactly gotten off on his good side. Finn had always believed that once you made it to heaven, why everything would be great and everyone would be nice. There’d be lots of great things to eat, lots of games to play, and you wouldn’t have to study or work or do chores or anything like that.
Not true! Heaven was a lot of work. And you had to be careful to do things right or some administrator like old Sturgenbaum would come along and throw some rule at you that you had broken and threaten to have you thrown out of the place. Well, Finn was almost at the point where he wondered if it might not be better to be thrown out.
Finn put his ear to the door of Number 26 and listened. Someone was crying. That must be Dorothy, the lady he was sent down to help today. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could pull this one off without getting old Stugenbaum’s dander up.
Inside of Number 26, Dorothy Kemper sat sobbing on the corner of her bed, a tissue in one hand and a half-eaten twinkie in the other. Large red blotches about the size of cherry tomatoes, some of them festering and oozing an unpleasant liquid, covered her face and arms and every other part of her body.
How could things go wrong so fast. Tuesday she had lost her job, Wednesday her boyfriend, and today she had been told to move out of her apartment. Life could turn sour on you so quickly. Only last week Dorothy had been on top of the world, feeling as if life was finally serving her up something fair, something she could live with. Now that seemed like a distant memory.
Setting the twinkie down momentarily, she pulled on her fuzzy blue bathrobe and slipped on her faded pink bunny slippers. Dorothy’s intention was to eventually get up off of the bed, which she finally did after taking another bite out of the unfinished treat.
“I don’t even like twinkies,” she said to herself. But she still held on to it as she wandered into the other main area of her apartment, an L-shaped room that served as both a living room and kitchen. Sitting down on her worn couch, Dorothy wondered why she hadn’t just stayed in the bedroom.
Dorothy had moved to Midway two years ago. At the time, she was hoping that a change of scenery would bring her a change of luck. Anything sounded better than another year in her home town where everyone not only knew your name, but also the last time you picked your nose. Thomas Kemper, Dorothy’s father, was part of the problem. He was usually at least two months behind on his rent and had the bad habit of spending most of his paycheck before he ever got home with it. Money slipped through Thomas Kemper’s hands like oil through a sieve. Most of it ended up at one of the local bars. It was pretty clear to everyone in town that Dorothy—a nice, but plain girl—was never going to amount to much.
Dorothy had set out to prove them all wrong. She could be somebody; she could survive on her own; she could be more than everyone expected. And for some time now, everything had been going well. She had found a really good job working as a receptionist at the Two Rivers Inn, a nice, clean tourist stopover on the edge of town. She had met Ned and he seemed to really enjoy her company. And, lastly, she had been lucky enough to find this affordable, small-but-nice apartment.
So, Dorothy was asking herself, what had she done to deserve this?
Posh O’Danur, her boss, had taken one look at her last week and then asked her not to return. Ned was at first sympathetic, but when things didn’t clear up after a couple of days, he quit calling. And then today her apartment manager, Ralph Owger, had cornered her at the mailboxes to remind her that the lease was up at the end of the month…and, more to the point, he wasn’t going to renew it. She would need to find another place.
“Why me?” said Dorothy to herself. “All I wanted was a little drop of happiness, not a gallon…not the whole ocean.”
It was at moments like this when Dorothy wondered why a good girl, an average girl, a hard-working girl like she was couldn’t get a break, while tedious, crotchety old dumps like Ralph Owger seemed to sail along through life with minimal effort, but few problems.
Dorothy got up and went back into her bedroom still holding on to the last bite of twinkie to look in her bathroom mirror one more time—something she had been doing at regular intervals for the past several days, hoping each time that the medicine her doctor had prescribed would show signs of working. Dorothy was afraid that the doctor really had no idea what was causing the red boils to erupt all over her body. It was possible, she thought, that he had just given her something…anything…so, she would leave and stop scaring other patients.
One look in the mirror told her the sad truth. There was no change, not even a hint of change. Her face and arms and everything else were still covered in large red welts. It was easy to see why the apartment manager wanted her out.
“Oh, dear God, just let me die,” howled Dorothy. “I can’t go on like this. I don’t want to go on like this.”
Dorothy’s knees buckled and she collapsed into a puddle-like mass on the bathroom floor. A single beam of light trickled in through the one small window opposite the mirror and fell across her face.
“Please, God,” Dorothy moaned, “please help me…”
Ddrinnng! Ddrinnng! The phone rang in Caroline Sweet’s cubicle and she quickly stopped filing her long nails and flipped on the Vis-a-phone III sitting on her desk.
“You have reached the D.A.N.G.* offices. This is Caroline…how may I help you?”
“Hi, Caroline. It’s just me again. Mr. Sturgenbaum wants to talk to you.”
“Oh fine. Put him on, Jenny…but I did it just like he asked. I don’t know why he has to always be calling and checking up on things. Doesn’t that man have anything more important to do? He is an archangel, you know.”
“Yes, I do know, Miss Sweet, and no, I don’t have anything more important to do right now. But thank you for your concern for my well-being, however.”
“Mr. Sturgenbaum, sir…I…didn’t mean…I mean I was just…”
“Yes, you were just talking to Jenny and you are undoubtedly still looking at Jenny on your screen. It’s so nice what the boys from the Co.R.P.O* can do when they have the right motivation.
“Now, Miss Sweet,…if it’s not too much of an imposition…what exactly did you put in young Mr. Finkelton’s transmission orders this morning?”
“Yes, sir. I did just what you asked. I assigned him to a fairly easy, straightforward case. A Miss Dorothy Kemper, sir. She has a bad case of boils that’s been causing her no end of trouble, and…”
“Spare me the details about Miss Kemper, please. Just the orders as you sent them to the boy.”
“Certainly, sir.” I wouldn’t want you to have to worry about any real problems! “Well, I told him this assignment was only for one miracle—heal Miss Kemper of her boils—just like you said…and I said he was to be sure and not go beyond the basic orders as outlined in the transmission…just like you said…and then I said he was to return immediately to the D.A.N.G. offices for debriefing…just like you said.”
“Nothing else?”
“No, sir. That was all.”
“Very good, Miss Sweet. Thank you for your concise, intelligent, and insightful report. It’s always a pleasure.”
Sturgenbaum was gone. Caroline sat in the chair in her cubicle for several minutes, unable to return to her work. If there had still been blood flowing in her veins, it would have been boiling.
[*D.A.N.G. is the Division of Angelic Normal Guardians. They are normal in the sense that they do things in traditional angelic ways as opposed to their rivals over in D.U.N.G. (Division of Unconventional and Non-traditional Guardians), who have no respect for tradition and are often so close to violating the Angelic Code that you would have a hard time squeezing a cat’s whisker in between them and the limits of the law.]
[*Co.R.P.O. was the acronym for the Communications Repair and Programming Office. This was the polite and proper way of identifying this particular angelic administrative subdivision. However, those less-polite, less politically correct individuals who had dealt frequently with CoRPO preferred to refer to them by their alternate acronym…C.R.A.P.]
Finn hadn’t planned on being an angel. Truth be known, he hadn’t given it a lot of thought. After all he was just a kid. His mom had thought about it though. She went to church every Sunday and she tried to get Finn and his dad and his brother and sister to come along. But that hadn’t happened very often. What was she doing now? Was she okay? Did she miss him? Finn had tried to visit her a few weeks back, but Sturgenbaum’s angelic rules wouldn’t allow it. Too traumatic, or something like that, he had said. So, here Finn was trying his best to be whatever an angel was supposed to be. He knew that’s what his mom would want him to do.
Right now, Dorothy Kemper of Number 26 in the Princess Apartments on the west side of Midway needed him. He’d better take care of business. First, he’d need some kind of entrance and just barging in didn’t seem to be quite the right approach, so Finn reached one hand out into the hallway air and as he swept it back toward him it filled with stems, and leaves and finally flowers. His fingers closed around a bright bouquet of daisies.
Wow! That was so cool! Finn had practiced doing simple miracles like that for weeks in his Beginning Miracles class, but it still amazed him every time when he was actually able to do it. Holding the flowers carefully in his right hand, he reached out with his left and pushed on the doorbell.
Inside the apartment, Dorothy Kemper didn’t even bother to get up and see who was at the door. It must be the manager bringing someone by to see the apartment and she was in no mood for that right now. How could he be so insensitive about the whole thing?
The doorbell rang again.
“Go away,” she yelled.
“Miss Kemper,” said a voice she didn’t recognize. “Please, open up. I have an important delivery for you.”
That was interesting. Whoever it was didn’t sound like Ralph, nor anyone else she knew. Dorothy put down the last bit of her still unfinished twinkie and walked slowly over to the door. She peered through the small peep hole. The lens in the peep made objects look funny outside the door—all stretched out and unnatural—but even with the distortion, it appeared that standing outside her door was a blond-haired, blue-eyed young boy of maybe thirteen or fourteen years old holding a beautiful boquet of yellow daisies.
“Can you open the door, please?” the boy called through the door again.
“Just a moment,” said Dorothy. She fumbled with the chain and bolt for a moment before the door finally opened. There stood Finn Finkelton, Junior Angel. Of course, Miss Kemper had no idea he was anything other than a local delivery boy.
Finn, however, was on top of things right away. He noticed, for example, that Miss Kemper was not what you would call ‘fashionably dressed’ this morning. In fact, her frazzled appearance accented by the large red boils, her fuzzy blue bathrobe, and pink bunny slippers (the left one missing an ear) almost caused him to break out laughing. Fortunately, he managed to just continue smiling.
Dorothy was surprised that the young man didn’t recoil and run at the sight of her and instead, marched right on into her apartment.
“Finn Finkelton, ma’am. Just delivering some flowers. Have you a vase…or is it pronounced vaaze? I can never remember. Just something to put them into before they wilt?” he said with a big smile, his blue eyes twinkling.
Still a bit perplexed, Dorothy offered a weak, “Uh..sure, come in. I think I have a vase.”
Dorothy wandered into the kitchen portion of the room and Finn followed. He noticed that the sink and counters were covered with several days worth of dirty dishes, and watched as Miss Kemper dug down under one of the more recent piles where she found the vase. Unfortunately, it had been used…and not for flowers, so it took Dorothy a moment to clean out the remains of her morning’s coffee.
“Sorry, it’s the only vase I’ve got. Was there a card with the flowers?”
“No, ma’am. Just the flowers. An anonymous order, I believe.”
Dorothy trimmed the flowers and put them into the water while Finn watched. Their bright yellow colors and fresh scent made the whole apartment seem warmer, sunnier.
“Pardon my saying so ma’am,” Finn said as she finished with the flowers, “but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with quite so many big red blotches.”
It was one thing to be covered in boils and quite another to have it pointed out to you…particularly by a teenager.
“Well, I’m sorry if they offend you.”
“Oh no, ma’am, I’m not offended. It’s one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a long while. Why, I’ve heard about Job, of course—my mom taught me all those Bible stories—but I never thought I’d see something like that myself.”
The look on Dorothy’s face suggested that she had no idea what Finn was talking about, and rather than just drop it—probably the wise thing to do—Finn just kept right on going.
“You know Job…he’s the guy in the Bible who was covered in boils. Wow! I really never thought I’d actually get to meet someone like him. It’s a real honor Miss Kemper. Do they hurt much?”
Dorothy was approaching the end of her very frayed rope. “Yes, they hurt! Yes, they’re ugly! Yes, I’d rather be dead than have them all over me for another day! Does that answer your stupid questions?”
Her response brought Finn back to the task at hand. He realized that he had probably stepped over the line, so to speak, and was a bit worried that maybe he had messed the whole job up already.
“I’m very sorry ma’am. I didn’t mean to get too personal. They are just so interesting I…I got carried away. What I really wanted to ask was if I could do anything to help?”
This question took Dorothy by surprise. No one all week had asked her if they could help. Not Ned, not the doctor, and certainly not Ralph.
Dorothy wiped a tear from her eye and tried to gain her composure. She wasn’t certain she wanted to discuss her medical problems with a young teenage boy, but her mental state was so fragile, her confidence so low, that in the end she simply pulled out one of the kitchen chairs from beneath the table and sat down. Then she grabbed the corner of the well-used table cloth and used it to wipe away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.
Finn waited. This was better, he thought. A few tears and he would have the job right back on track. Miss Kemper had, after all, been through a very tough week.
Finn looked carefully at her face. Getting rid of the boils wouldn’t be a problem, but…Miss Kemper looked like she could use a little extra help in some other areas. After all, hadn’t the transmission orders asked that he give her some encouragement…lift her spirits…build her self-esteem? Well, maybe they hadn’t, but they should have.
It took a few moments for Dorothy to work things out, but when the sobs became less frequent, Finn cleared his throat, causing Miss Kemper to look up at him with her red eyes now added to the red blotches of the boils.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, ma’am. Sometimes I know I ask too many questions. But I just thought…you know, that maybe I could help. You see, when I was little, my mom taught me that, when I was scared or in trouble or just worried about something, I should pray. Now, I’m not sayin’ that I always did what my mom asked me to do. In fact, I think she was disappointed in me some of the time. But I did always feel better when I prayed. Would you like me to pray with you?”
Finn knew he didn’t have to pray, but it seemed the correct thing to do, the right thing to do.
Dorothy didn’t know what to think. She hadn’t said a formal prayer in such a long time that she wasn’t sure she even knew how to pray properly anymore. But what did she have to lose? Besides, this boy intrigued her. Why was he hanging around trying to be sympathetic and understanding, when everyone else she knew, including her friends, were so repulsed by her condition that they had deserted her? He was certainly unlike any other teenage boy she had observed.
“I don’t suppose a prayer would hurt,” she said, almost in a whisper. “What did you say your name was?”
“Finn, ma’am…Finn Finkelton. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to kneel.”
Finn knelt on the well-worn kitchen floor and was about to begin.
“May I kneel with you?” asked Dorothy.
“Yes, ma’am…that is if it’s not too hard for you. I know you must be in a lot of pain.”
“I don’t mind,” said Dorothy as she knelt down next to Finn, bowed her head, and listened as he began to pray.
“Father,” said Finn, “it’s nice to visit with you again. I guess you might wonder why I’m botherin’ you so much lately. But it’s kinda my job these days, even if, you know, it was a mistake…me getting into Heaven and all, you know. Anyways, I’m here with Miss Dorothy today and she really needs some help. If it’s okay with you, I’ll be happy to fix her up. Thanks and please don’t mention this to anyone. I wouldn’t want to disturb any of those hard working folks up in the Ministry. Amen.”
That was it. Dorothy’s mind, which was in kind of a fog, hadn’t followed the details or she might have wondered about the ‘getting into Heaven’ and ‘Ministry’ parts. As it was, she just thought it was different…weird maybe was a better word…for a prayer. At the very least it wasn’t like anything Dorothy had ever heard before, but today, in her condition, she was willing to take just about any sympathy she could get.
“Thank you, Finn. That was so nice of you to offer that prayer. Now if it would only be answered.”
“Yes, ma’am. I think you’ll find that it will. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you, but I’ve got to be going now,” said Finn as he stood and then helped Dorothy to her feet.
With that, Finn was gone. He left the apartment before Dorothy had recovered enough to remember she hadn’t even tipped him. These delivery boys didn’t make much money and she knew they needed the tips to survive. Hurrying to the door, she was certain Finn would still be on the stairs headed down to the front exit of the building. But outside her door, as she looked down the stairwell, all she saw was the manager coming up.
“Ralph! Did you see a delivery boy go by just now? A blond kid about thirteen or fourteen years old?” Dorothy yelled down. “You must have let him in just a few minutes ago.”
“I ain’t seen nobody all day, and I most certainly ain’t let nobody in to see ya,” replied Ralph as he labored to get his fat body up the rest of the stairs to the landing where Dorothy stood.
Ralph rarely took showers, so his ‘aura’ preceded the arrival of his body by several seconds wherever he went. Dorothy took a step backwards as he reached the landing at the top of the flight of stairs out of breath and sweating. Her backward step placed her directly beneath one of the dim bulbs that lit the empty hallway. It was this light that gave Ralph a really good look at Dorothy and his eyes bulged almost out of their sockets.
“Hey there missy. That’s some doc you went to. Geeze, yer gonna hafta gimme his name. Maybe he could do sum’thin t’ fix me up. Yes sir, that’s one helluva job that there doctor done.”
“You’re babbling Ralph. I have no idea what you are talking about. I just want to know about the boy who delivered flowers to me a few moments ago. He was wearing a brown jacket with a yellow daisy stitched over the pocket. You must have seen him coming down the stairs,” said Dorothy.
Ralph was still breathing heavily from the effort of climbing the stairs and now his breath wafted over to where Dorothy stood adding to the general unpleasant smell of his body odor.
“I tol’ ya already. Ain’t seen nobody. I was just comin’ t’ make sure ya was okay,” said Ralph, lying about the real reason. He had actually been coming to make sure Dorothy was clear on the concept of non-renewal of her lease. However, this was not the same Dorothy he had seen early this morning by the mailboxes.
“I was wrong this morning t’ be so hard with ya. So’s I thought it’d be best if’n I let ya know ya don’t need t’ move out. In fact missy, ya can stay here as long as ya want.”
Ralph paused again to catch his breath, but that didn’t stop his fat bulging eyes from wandering up and down until finally Dorothy was so embarrassed she fled back into her apartment. Whatever could that old lecher mean. He had never, ever looked at her like that before, even when she didn’t have boils covering every inch of her body.
Dorothy shut the door, and as she pushed the chain back into place to lock it, she noticed that her hands and arms were smooth and clear of any red blotches. Dorothy ran to the bathroom. It just couldn’t be true. But it was! Her face was smooth and clear, just like her arms. So were her legs and feet and everything else! It was a miracle!
There was something else that caught Dorothy’s eye; something that she only half noticed with the first look into the mirror, so she turned and looked again. This time she didn’t just look to see if the boils were gone. She looked at herself—her hair, her face, her skin, her figure, all of her—and particularly her eyes. Something had changed. There was definitely a girl in the mirror, and the girl still looked like her, but here and there changes had occurred. Her hair was still brown, but now it was a lustrous, glowing brown like you see on those women on TV commercials. Her body was still basically the same, but she was missing that extra fat she had always hated. Her face was still her face, but the nose seemed just a bit smaller, the lips fuller, the cheeks smooth and rosy. And that mole that she had always wanted to get removed, but never had been able to afford to do it—well, it was gone.
But it was the eyes that Dorothy noticed more than anything else. Hers had always been a dull color somewhere between gray and brown. Yes, they were still the same basic color. Only now the gray-brown color was deeper, darker. In the light streaming through the small bathroom window, they seemed to sparkle. It was impossible! Dorothy couldn’t understand what had happened to her. She was no longer the plain-faced, flat-chested, mousy-haired girl she had been…now she was beautiful.
Dorothy turned away from the mirror, tears forming at the corners of her eyes and went back into her bedroom. It was the boy; it had to be the boy. Why hadn’t she at least tipped him?
Finn was feeling pretty good about how things had turned out with Miss Kemper as he stepped out of the Transmission Office and headed back home. Helping people always gave him a good feeling, made him think that perhaps he really was supposed to be in heaven. Maybe I can make it as an angel.
His mind was chewing over this possibility as he turned the corner and ran straight into Morehouse Sturgenbaum, Archangel, and head of the Department of Regulations on Angel Troublemakers (D.R.A.T.).
“Well, well. Thought no one would notice, did you? It might come as a surprise to you, Mr. Finkelton, but we are not all idiots up here. I believe…no, I’m certain that your orders gave you permission for only one miracle—cure Miss Kemper of her boils—but at last count—and I’ll need to have these figures verified, of course—you performed almost a dozen! Daisies, boils, lips, hips, thighs, skin, hair, eyes, mole, and bosom. Yes, Mr. Finkelton, I’ll need you to come along with me. I do hope that you have enjoyed your brief time here in the Twenty-Eighth Heaven, because if I have anything to say about it, you won’t be seeing it or living in it for very much longer.”

1 comment:

Karen said...

This was a fun read, looking forward to more in the future. Thanks for posting this.